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Dealer’s snow event builds customer relationships

By David Wells

Sled demo rides important to Appolson’s Performance Center

“We don’t want to just sell you a snowmobile,” Jim Appolson said. “We want to gain you as a long-term customer.” 

This veteran western New York dealer has been totally immersed in the sport of snowmobiling for decades, and that experience has shaped a business philosophy that extends far beyond special sales and short-term promotions.

Beginning as an oval sprint racer back in the days of leaf spring sleds, Appolson competed professionally on Polaris snowmobiles before opening Appolson’s Performance Center as a Polaris dealership in 1992. Located in Hamburg, an outer suburb to the south of Buffalo, his dealership is in Erie County, No. 1 in New York for registered snowmobiles, and not far from Lake Erie. 

In addition to Polaris snowmobiles, ATVs and UTVs, Appolson’s also sells Yamaha WaveRunners, KYMCO scooters, Triton and Karavan trailers, and aftermarket apparel lines. 

“We spend the time and get to know the customer,” Appolson explained. “That lets us get them on the right product for them.” 

His philosophy is works well when there is adequate snowfall.

“Last year we had record snowmobile sales,” Appolson said. “We had the right product at the right time with the best programs in the industry.” 

But so far this season hasn’t been anywhere near as strong. 

“We didn’t get early sales or snowfall,” he lamented. “Last year we cleared out the pipeline.”

Jim Appolson made his mark as an oval sprint racer for Polaris. These days, his dealership in Erie County sells Polaris snowmobiles in New York’s No. 1 county for snowmobile registrations.

Jim Appolson made his mark as an oval sprint racer for Polaris. These days, his dealership in Erie County sells Polaris snowmobiles in New York’s No. 1 county for snowmobile registrations.

A lot of his customers had old sleds, and they traded up to new iron, so the dealership completely sold out of model year 2016 snowmobiles. But 2016 also brought a poor winter to western New York. 

“Nobody rode their sleds last year,” he continued, explaining why this season was so soft in the early going. And a nearly snowless January 2017 added to the problem. Buffalo has a reputation for snow, but Appolson points out that the real Lake Erie snowbelt is well to the south in Chautauqua County. 

Nevertheless, Appolson doesn’t give up and is continuing his popular and effective Polaris Demo Tour ride again this winter. A time-proven and highly effective way to sell sleds, demo rides offer a unique opportunity to size up potential buyers while demonstrating the advantages of the latest products, and Appolson uses this promotional technique with other types of vehicles, too. 

Postponed in 2017 from January to February due to a lack of snow, Appolson’s sled demo event began a decade ago to reach and motivate potential snowmobile buyers. Three years ago, a Polaris film crew was able to visit his Demo Tour event for sleds and was impressed. The first day was rough due to poor snow conditions, but several inches of snow overnight turned it into a great success the next day. 

Brands like Castle X, Arctiva and FXR get prime treatment for snowmobile customers at Appolson’s.

Brands like Castle X, Arctiva and FXR get prime treatment for snowmobile customers at Appolson’s.

Demo Tour ride participants are strongly encouraged to register in advance, which is done on the dealership’s website. During registration, participants provide full contact information, state their level of experience, request a time slot and select a specific Polaris model to try out. Unregistered drop-ins may participate, if they can be accommodated. There’s also a standard waiver form to be signed at the event, and a grill with hot dogs and burgers provides on-site refreshments as an icebreaker for conversation. And this year, riders were entered in a drawing to win a Polaris jacket and bibs. It also provides a great opportunity for Appolson and his staff to meet customers in a neutral setting, to get to know them better and to demonstrate their latest products. 

“The big thing we sell is the premium performance and comfort that Polaris is delivering with the Axys chassis,” Appolson said. He and his staff also dress in the latest apparel to show it to potential buyers in a real-world situation. 

“We don’t expect to sell sleds immediately,” he said, noting that although there are always special deals available, they don’t offer any sales specials that are specifically tied to the demo event. “There isn’t an instant reward to this,” he explained. “It’s not like we sell six or 10 machines the next day. But it creates relationships.” 

And those relationships pay off when the potential customer is ready to move to a new ride. 

Regarding new technology, Appolson says many customers are interested in the Polaris Interactive Digital Display (PIDD). This gauge package upgrade provides a full color display covering vehicle data, navigation and smartphone connectivity through Bluetooth technology. And in aftermarket apparel, Appolson reports that FXR Racing gear has been well received since its recent addition at the dealership.

Based in Pittsford, New York, David Wells is a member of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. He has been a contributor to Powersports Business since its inception.

 

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